Flying high with Praxis Aeronautics solar technology
Completing work and missions considered too dangerous, dull or dirty for humans, unmanned aerial vehicles – or drones – are a valuable tool in a variety of fields.
In recent years their use has expanded to include more mainstream applications such as residential delivery services, aerial photography and archaeology site surveillance. Despite this increase in scope there are still serious limitations around the technology itself, specifically the fact that most electric drones have a flight duration of only one hour.
Praxis Aeronautics, a South Australian technology company, is meeting these limitations head on, having developed a method to manufacture affordable solar-powered drones which will have a flight duration of up to six hours.
The secret to their success is in building a drone that uses solar cells as a structural element of the vehicle. This method keeps the vehicle light, robust and inexpensive – around three times less expensive than other solar-powered drones currently on the market.
“Our technology allows us to encapsulate the solar cells into the composite of the structure,” said Don Donaldson, Managing Director of Praxis Aeronautics.
“We are pushing the boundaries in terms of what drones can do, including in the V-TOL [vertical take-off and landing] market,” he said. “In addition to that, we are also in talks with electric and solar-powered bus manufacturers to discuss using these same methods to improve their fleet. Long term, we hope to adapt the technology for use in the building sector.”
Interest in the refined technology is coming from many areas including defence, the agricultural sector and NGOs, where drones may be used to drop medical and other critical supplies to people in isolated areas. There is also a market for the drones to be used for public safety functions such as shark spotting, fire control, civil disobedience and surveillance. All of these markets would benefit from the flexibility of a longer flight duration.
“With South Australia’s focus on innovation, sustainability and alternative fuels, we see the benefits of growing our business in South Australia,” said Mr Donaldson. “We are building smart manufacturing practices into our business and will be looking to employ three to four additional staff to help us take on the workload in the future. We are very much a South Australian family, and we see our future here in South Australia.”
Praxis Aeronautics won the 2016 Australian eChallenge for start-ups. The business received funding for their solar-powered drones from the South Australian Government though the SAECF grant administered by TechInSA.
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